Well, flash years ahead, past a few life experiences that led me to desperate and anxious places where I was inevitably seeking new forms of coping and finally figuring, “Eh, what can it hurt?”. Frankly, the choice to try yoga led me to my true self in many ways, as well as to amazing communities of people, being in the best shape of my life, a greatly-improved mental health state, better coping skills, and superb life benefits in general. Farewell to the overwhelming, tiring, injurious workouts of my twenties, and hello to this studio solace of my chilled-out thirties.
So to anyone who has the same misconceptions I had — that you have to be in $200 yoga pants to join in, that you will be bored out of your mind falling asleep, that you won’t get a maximum workout in your spare crammed-in thirty-five minutes a day, or that you aren’t literally Enya/do not own any sterling-silver bangle bracelets, read on as I debunk some common (and understandable) misnomers and myths when it comes to getting your yoga game on.
1. “Isn’t it for people who rub crystal amethysts, liberals, hippies, dips, hipsters, durps, the super-chill, Lululemon turbo-babes in size dual-zero pants? That ain’t me.”
Surely, these people exist (particularly the final — a lot of those babes running around), but in truth, all ages, genders, ethnicities, bodies, personality types, political affiliations and so forth populate our daily classes; there is no universal beyond the fact that everyone just wants to feel and look better. You could surely label a certain “type” (Yoga Mom On Broccoli Diet With High-Income Husband), but they’re merely littered throughout diverse classes of people. As well, if yoga seems like it isn’t economically viable, check out community classes and outdoor ones. Many studios and cities provide these for a nominal fee, some even for free.
Additional to that, those in high-stress careers, or anyone with an injury, or anyone weathering the kind of “molting” periods that compel amped-up anxiety/newfound misdirection (after having kids, empty nest, marriage, divorce, death, so on), can best experience the release of emotion and pain through various breathing and posing exercises innate to yoga practice, and yogic transformations in trying times aren’t the exception, they are mostly the experiential rule for many. Stressed-out uptight friends, WE are the ones who need to come to yoga: type-A control freaks with red-cheek-Emoji-faces about to rocket off of our bodies into the outer limits with road rage, tap-dancing flails of frustration and most unpleasant periods of panic. For the people who are really naturally chill folks? They’re likely not here in Power Hour Vinyasa — they’re smiling calmly as-is, taking a leisurely nap on their floor in their co-op — they can come to class, but they don’t HAVE TO get to yoga to stretch to the moon and release their demons. Us stressballs are the one who need this shit to breathe.
I used to think I would not “fit in” at yoga classes, but the funny thing is, if you’re in a good studio with a true yogi/yogini instructor, everyone fits in. Because a sense of community and acceptance is really the essence of yoga, and anything short of that is just bad instruction and should be instead called a “random shitty stretching class.” If you feel judged, you’re probably in the wrong place. Yoga is also a great place to go when you’re new in town or traveling and want something to do besides walk around and drink — I’ve gone to incredible classes on beaches, mountaintops, aerial classes in a Pennsylvania barn, and once a candlelit hatha class in a Massachusetts gristmill (where I was pretty sure I would get lost/murdered in the snowstorm walking the long snowy route to my car afterward, but I guess that’s a story for another SVU episode). But it is a grand way to experience community when you’re feeling alone, as well as a great way to de-stress during relocation or to enhance a travel experience.
2. “YOGA? Yawn. That doesn’t burn calories like a ‘real workout.'”
Okay, this can be factually true at times — that the actuality of caloric burn is lower than other exercise options depending on the intensity of the class, but that isn’t the point. I was a diet and workout fanatic for years and hovered around 10-20 lbs overweight for most of my life until around 2010 when I began doing frequent yoga. That was a game changer. I’m 32 now, but in my twenties I was the kind of exercise freak who asked waiters at restaurants if they used hydrogenated oils in their meals, and I once brought sets of large free weights to a hotel room in Florida (my friend Sally: “Seriously, Meg? We’re here for 3 days, wtf?”). Not only was that exhausting and socially bizarre, but these extreme exercises never got my body — or mentality — to a healthy point. I am naturally lean with many curves, but all of those workouts just made me injured, obsessive, somehow MORE angry than I already was pre-workout and — OMG — SO HUNGRY — like scarf seven cans of beans (DON’T JUDGE ME) and levels of uncontrollable starvation each day, no matter how many “eat small meals 5 times a day” tips I adhered to.
These frustrations even lead me into periods of starvation and bulimia, both of which yoga helped me surmount as well. Not to ever slight cardiovascular exercise and strength training — they can both be amazing workouts, and I still walk and run and ride a bike sometimes. But for some people, well, it just ain’t for them. Hardcore workouts weren’t really for me, my body, or my personal needs.
There is definitely variation among classes, so try out different ones until you find something that fits. Some instructors are really competitive in the right way, which is not to say they’re fostering any competition BETWEEN students, but they help you set personal goals, they aid your weak spots, and they encourage you to compete WITH YOURSELF. Which, in truth, is the only person we are ever REALLY reckoning with, amirite? Yoga is hard: yin style challenges you in emotional ways, power yoga is hard in physical and mental ways, but if you barrel through, you’ll reap the rewards of the realest workout of your life.
3. “You won’t lose weight.”
You’ll lose weight with yoga more easily than with anything else.
AND HERE’S WHY.
“Weight loss is made in the kitchen” is a familiar adage in the wellness community, but the way that yoga assists that is through broad-scope encouragement of lifestyle deliberateness and mental soundness relating not just to diet, but to everywhere in your life. We overeat when we are distressed, tired, frantic, feeling out of control. When I make a meal after a yoga class, I select each ingredient with this weird kind of intentionality — choosing the most nutrient-rich ingredients, savoring bites, and stopping when I’m full; whereas in a yoga-free period of my life, I will just eat a large meatlovers pizza in one inhalation (worst asana ever: Papajohnanayama) so I’m not someone inclined toward healthy eating AT ALL. Thus, when I once worked out “hard” still feeling unsatisfied, starved, and mentally fucked, I generally just ate my normal variety of hoagies, aforementioned pizza, and varied “evening snacks” (read: two king-sized freezer-Snickers).
Yoga is the only thing in my life that has ever helped me get to a weight and form I feel best in. And not simply because it lengthens muscles and lifts your derriere, but because it helps me regulate my daily diet, which is about eighty percent* (*random guess) of weight loss, and it is THAT (and not getting to the gym or going on diets with expiration dates that just return you to your bad eating patterns) which is the thing that most people have the most difficult time controlling.
I generally always hovered between 150 and 165 lbs at 5’8″ while working out 6-7 days a week and heavily monitoring my diet. Then later, during an extreme period, dipped to below 120 lbs, too weak to even exercise at that point. Now I’m an easy 135, eat whatever I feel like eating, and practice yoga 3-4 times a week. I feel like a unicorn-woman to admit my undoctored weight casually and state that I like my body, but I finally do, because I am comfortable in my skin and I enjoy my daily lifestyle immeasurably more than I ever did whilst fretting over calorie intake.
4. “It won’t change any of my mental health issues, it’s just YOGA.”
The effect it has on the most common of mental ailments is seriously nothing short of fucking extraordinary. Move over, Xanax. Resting pigeon is in town and it’s ready to rumble with your hysteria and tears. In a wicked fucking gentle way.
I like being and feeling sexy — c’mon, who doesn’t. But truly, my rad dumper takes a backseat (heh) to the mental health repair effects the practice of yoga has had on me. Anxious people and depressed people: this is your salve and your salvation. I promise.
Yoga, if you stay at it and push through the hardest first few sessions (I found about the first 10 classes I ever took to be the most disorienting and I Wanted to scream “I’M GOING TO DROWN YOUR CAT!” at my instructors when in a pose that I found emotionally jarring — this happens, be prepared), can be your most reassuring and comforting best friend, it can be the lover who finally pays attention to your visceral responses, the therapist who finally gets you, the pill with no unfavorable side effects that finally cures the ailments that always seemed to have simply no cure in sight. At the very least, a devotion to yoga practice can chill you right out. Everyone has stress, but we can all take it down one enormous notch. Before yoga, I didn’t know it was possible to relax. As in, until I was 28 years old, I didn’t know what relaxation felt like, which is kind of sad. It’s fucking cool to relax! You’ll really enjoy yourself.
5. “It isn’t for dudes.”
This is a cultural shift changing a little bit with the acceptability of practice, but I imagine that shift is only present in certain major metro areas, so it needs to be reasserted: yoga is most definitely for men as much as it is for women. Country singers and machismo heteronormativity has long since been linking yoga to wimpiness, girlyness, and not liking pina coladas, but in truth, guys who do yoga are some of the sexiest, manliest ones around. They get more David Beckham-y lean muscle mass (HOLY H&M ADS!), they are often mentally and socially secure, and generally have an easy demeanor. Check, check, and check. So boys: git er done, yogi style! But not if you’re Adam Levine. You need to just go home, Adam Levine, you’re the worst. So in summary, outside of some very unfortunate Levine associations, yoga is the balls and the titties. Give it a shot, because why not. At worst, you’ll wedge in a sweet nap and stretch before Crossfit.